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Illinois veterinary oncologist Dr. Timothy Fan and chemistry professor Paul Hergenrother are testing the safety of a new drug, PAC-1, to help treat patients with late-stage cancer. The compound showed promising results by reducing the size of cancerous tumors in sick pet dogs.

According to Hergenrother, nearly 95 percent of cancer drugs tested in humans fail. But PAC-1’s way of killing cancer cells is different than other cancer drugs—it activates protein in the cancer cell that encourages it to self-destruct. Their studies have found that when PAC-1 is used in conjunction with other conventional cancer treatments, the size of brain tumors in dogs shrink.

The PAC-1 trials in dogs have found PAC-1 to be safe, with few observable side effects. Vanquish Oncology, a drug-development startup company Hergenrother helped found in 2011, has licensed the technology from Illinois and is focused on evaluating PAC-1 in the clinic. The drug is in the early stages of human clinical trials for patients with late-stage aggressive cancer.

“This is a uniformly fatal disease, and an area of unmet need. The data in dogs, although limited so far, has been quite promising,” said Hergenrother.

Read more about their journey to treat cancer.